Writer-director Christopher Nolan's World War II epic Dunkirk reached a box office milestone over the weekend by crossing the $400 million mark in global ticket sales. Dunkirk has had a miraculous summer at the box office both domestically and abroad, roaring into theaters with a "Fresh" Rotten Tomatoes ranking of 92 percent and overperforming in its debut weekend with more than $50.5 million in ticket sales alone stateside.
Proving the opening wasn't a fluke, Dunkirk – based on the true-life heroic rescue of 400,000 Allied troops pinned at the port of Dunkirk, France, surrounded by German forces in 1940 – not only won its second weekend domestically in theaters, it finished in the top five the next three weeks. Combined with impressive ticket sales overseas, Nolan's war drama has become perhaps the summer's most unlikely box office juggernaut in a movie-going season that's been anything but stellar, save the blockbuster returns for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and the summer's No. 1 movie, Wonder Woman.
According to Forbes, Dunkirk finished at No. 6 with more than $3.9 million in domestic ticket sales over the weekend, and combined with foreign receipts, crossed the $400 million mark worldwide Saturday. As of Sunday, Box Office Mojo reports that the film has earned a total of $412.1 million globally to date ($172.4 domestically, $239.7 million overseas). By passing the $400 million mark, the film has now officially more than quadrupled its reported production budget of $100 million.
Dunkirk should prove as a valuable lesson to filmmakers in summer movie seasons to come that original tales – and not necessarily sequels or reboots – can definitely be major players in the movie marketplace, even if the film is an historical tale being released in midst of crowd of popcorn movies.
Of course, Nolan is a rare filmmaker who has enough clout to take risks and avoid Hollywood convention by telling a story like Dunkirk's from three different perspectives — from the air, the land, and the sea — and do so by making everybody a supporting player with very little dialogue (Nolan even went so far as to consider shooting the film without a script). Having said that, studios need to remember that Nolan started in the same place as everybody else, and only the success of The Dark Knight — a film tailor-made for summer movie audiences — gave him the power to tell more unique stories like Inception, Interstellar and now, Dunkirk.
It's hard to tell at this point if Dunkirk has strong enough legs to approach the $500 million global mark, but there's no question that the film has a lot of momentum going into fall with other aspirations. With virtually no major releases opening Labor Day weekend, the Dunkirk is sure to remain in the domestic box office top 10 at least through the first couple of weeks of September. Maintaining a high level of visibility will surely help the film as awards season approaches, as Dunkirk will in all likelihood score multiple Academy Award nominations and possibly earn Nolan his first Oscar.